Most Denver students are kids of color. Most teachers are white. That hasn’t changed, despite recent efforts.

Despite efforts to diversify its teacher workforce, Denver Public Schools still faces an imbalance that plagues many school districts across the country:

About three-quarters of its 92,000 students are children of color, but 73 percent of its teachers this year are white.

That number remains unchanged from last year.

Although DPS tried to hire more teachers of color through targeted recruitment and other strategies, and while it’s had some success diversifying its principal pool, its efforts are having little difference at the front of the classroom.

Seventy percent of the 929 new teachers hired for this school year are white, which is the same percentage as last year and only slightly more diverse than the overall teacher workforce:

Nationwide, about 80 percent of all public school teachers are white. That percentage is even higher in Colorado’s second-largest school district, neighboring Jeffco Public Schools, where about a third of students are children of color. State statistics show that in 2016-17, 90 percent of Jeffco teachers were white.

“We’re encouraged that we’re ahead of both the national average and surrounding districts,” Katie Clymer, DPS’s director of talent acquisition, wrote in an email. She added DPS understands “the urgency for our students today, and (is) eager to continue to push forward.”

Some research shows students of color benefit academically and socially when they’re taught by teachers who share the same background. A recent study found low-income black students who have even one black teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate high school.

While students of color in Denver are making academic progress, recent state test scores showed that white students and non-low-income students are still outpacing them.

The district’s school leaders are more diverse. Additionally, 39 percent of the new assistant principals and principals hired for 2017-18 were educators of color:

District officials credit a “grow-your-own” strategy for recruiting diverse principals. Almost all of the principals hired in the past couple of years have been from within DPS, said Debbie Hearty, the district’s chief human resources officer. It’s easier to grow teachers of color into leaders once they’re already in the district than it is to get diverse teachers in the door, she explained.

“Our pipelines coming into teaching from the traditional routes are not as diverse as we need them to be,” Hearty said. “…In the principalship, we have a more captive audience.”

Recent reports have shown enrollment in Colorado’s traditional teacher preparation programs is declining, and state colleges aren’t producing enough teaching graduates — let alone graduates of color — to keep up with demand. Many districts, including DPS, recruit from out of state.

To that end, DPS recruiters last year visited 17 colleges and universities across the country that graduate high proportions of top-performing teachers of color, Clymer said. They sometimes brought along alumni who are now teaching in DPS to speak about their experiences.

But convincing graduates to apply for jobs in Denver isn’t always easy, Clymer said.

“We’re fighting against the perception that Denver is a white ski town,” she said.

Connecting potential recruits with educators of color already working in DPS gives them a more realistic picture, Clymer said. The district is also launching a new employee resource group for educators of color to help them feel connected once they’re hired, she said.

“When you have current employees of color saying, ‘This is a place I can thrive,’ that unofficial recruiting is a powerful way to increase diversity,” Hearty said.

A joint effort between the city of Denver, DPS and several charter schools is also showing promise, Clymer said. The Make Your Mark campaign kicked off in March 2016 with the aim of selling the city to educators of color. Fifteen top minority teaching candidates visited Denver that month for a three-day whirlwind tour dubbed the Mile High Showcase that included school visits, a job fair, a Nuggets basketball game and dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

This year, the campaign shifted gears, Clymer said. After finding that many candidates who attended the showcase were already sold on Denver and didn’t need convincing, she said organizers eschewed hosting a tour for a select group of candidates in favor of launching more wide-ranging recruitment campaigns in Pueblo, Chicago and Puerto Rico.

In response to candidates expressing trepidation about Denver’s rising housing costs, organizers posted a list of local housing assistance programs on the Make Your Mark website. DPS compiled an even more comprehensive guide to housing, childcare and other resources. Inquiries from would-be teachers and principals to the Make Your Mark website are growing fast, Clymer said.

But she said recruitment can only do so much given the finite pool of teaching graduates of color. Ultimately, Clymer said, “you’re not going to hire your way out of this problem.”

That’s why DPS is also focused on convincing more young people and paraprofessionals to become teachers, and holding on to the teachers of color it already has, officials said.

This year is the second of a DPS program that pays for paraprofessionals to earn a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license while keeping their jobs for most of the time they’re in school.

More than 50 percent of participants are educators of color, Hearty said. But she said it’s too early to gauge the multi-year program’s effectiveness at diversifying the DPS teaching force.

That’s even more true for another DPS “grow-your-own” effort that targets high school students interested in a teaching career. Called EdConnect, the program launches in three DPS high schools this year and will offer students classes and work experience related to teaching.

Numbers show the district does a better job of keeping diverse educators once they’re hired. In fact, turnover was lower this year for DPS educators of color than for white educators:

But while that trend is encouraging, officials said the district understands it needs to move faster.

“We’re excited the changes we’re making are beginning to show positive gains,” Clymer said. Now, she added, it’s about figuring out how to capitalize on those gains to make more.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat). Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Melanie Asmar on September 21, 2017. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.


  1. “About three-quarters of its 92,000 students are children of color, but 73 percent of its teachers this year are white.”

    Why, exactly, is this a “problem”?

  2. Donnie, Have you ever spent more than 15 minutes in a K-12 classroom? Affinity with one’s teacher, especially with young children, makes a difference. If you’ve ever heard of Abe Maslow, then you surely know what I’m saying. Admittedly , you’d have to believe in his hierarchy of needs. It makes a difference.

    Also regarding the more diverse admin core: why is it that the further one gets from kids, the more one makes? How about paying teachers more, and cranking back the societal demonization? Then maybe you will attract more teachers–of any color. Maybe you’ll staunch the shortage of teachers in Colorado. Aaa and you’d have to believe in that, too.

  3. FIN Denver and Jeffco

    “Have you ever spent more than 15 minutes in a K-12 classroom?”

    No, but if I’m reading Dr. Maslow’s bio correctly neither did he.

    In an article written by Dr. Tony Kline applying Maslow’s Theory of Needs to education (link below) and published in he makes no mention of the importance of teachers of color in the learning process:

    – “To support our students’ physiological needs, we can ensure that all students have access to water in their rooms. Water bottles are a simple solution and research shows the many benefits of hydrated students.

    – To support our students physiological needs, we can ensure that we have nutritious snacks available.  Foods with slow-burning complex carbohydrates (such as granola bars) can help students sustain energy levels throughout the morning or afternoon.

    – To support our students physiological needs, we can ensure that if a student is in desperate need of sleep, they are allowed to take a short nap at school.  If not, research indicates that sleep-deprived students learn less and may even disrupt the learning of others.

    – To support our students’ safety needs, we can continuously equip students and monitor the climate of our classroom to decrease bullying.

    – To support our students’ love and belonging needs, would all students feel like our classroom has a family or close-knit feel? Are we actively making sitting arrangements and putting students in groups where they feel supported?

    – To support our students’ esteem needs, we need to provide affirmative, concrete, and transparent feedback so that students know their specific strengths and can articulate when they’ve used them to succeed in our classrooms. Do we create opportunity for peers to share specific positive feedback with each other?

    – In theory, when we support students in all of those stages noted, students can perform at their fullest potential, which is the self-actualization stage. Do we always expect students to perform at their best, even if they are in need of support in lower stages?”

    Realizing that there are differences of opinion among educators about the importance of having teachers of color in the classroom and realizing there are always competing funding priorities and that there are many, many factors external to the classroom that contribute to or detract from a student’s ability to learn how important is having teachers of color in the classroom?

    You seem to suggest that classroom teachers deserve higher pay and more respect. I agree. So how would you prioritize these three competing funding needs (1 being the most important):

    – More classroom teachers of color

    – Higher pay for classroom teachers

    – More respect for classroom teachers

  4. I value the information you’ve provided. I wonder how old the research is. I wonder where he was writing and studying. I wonder what color his subjects were? I wonder if the findings would be different if completed in today’s US.

    I wonder what he would have concluded had he thought of asking the questions of color and security and color and belonging.

    To answer your question. Two, results in three, leads to one.

    But back, how can one be a critic (in education) if one has no personal experience? Why are you dismissive of the underlying concern expressed in the article?

    How can one be an expert in arrested child development if one’s development was never arrested? What part of town do you live in? Do you have minority friends wih kids?

    Do you understand the spirit of “In loco parentis?” In place of the parent….

    Do you disagree with me, that we feel more secure with people of our own ethnicity? For children, who thrive in a place where they belong, thrive in a place where they belong because they feel secure. Children. We’re talking children.

    I don’t feel secure in a place where I know I don’t belong. Kids won’t either. So if we want all kids to feel safe and secure, we innovate–destroy old formulae:

    To begin at the base, we show little kids that their kind are teachers.

    We remove racism in the colleges that train teachers.

    We fund educators with the same lucre that we fund IT and pro sports.

    I could get in the weeds here…

    Pay teachers more. Much much more. That is the only respect that puts food on the table and gas in the car. Who the hell wants to be a teacher in this environment? At least administrators can wield a little power. Note that DPS reports that the numbers of black, brown, and white administrators is more balanced than the numbers of black, brown, and white educators.

    Perhaps minority teacher candidates are deterred not only because of the poverty level pay (gotta pay off the student loans) but that they are powerless. Powerless to influence. Powerless to discipline. Powerless to cause change.

    Who the hell wants to be a teacher in the US, now? They’re demonized, powerless, and insecure in their employment, even after completing 5 to 8 years of post secondary school which leads to certification and degree. Colleges and universities sure should be fighting this fight. Do they want to keep their schools of education viable? Then they should be fighting this fight of race and equality.

    So. Don, Power is another one of Maslow’s fundamental needs.

    Freedom, fun, security, power, belonging.

    Legislate three of those five conditions into the funding of educators, cash in their pockets, not grants to buy the latest and greatest methodology handbook for their cabinets. Then, you’ll have a more diverse Teacher corps, and you will decrease the achievement gaps between the stripes of the rainbow.

  5. FIN Denver / JeffCo

    I am not, as you suggest, “ dismissive of the underlying concern expressed in the article?” but I know that there are and will always be priorities competing for finite funding so my question is are there priorities higher than hiring teachers of color? Or, put another way, could the money being spent on hiring teachers of color be put to better use? The article appears to be written in a vacuum where there are no competing priorities. That’s unrealistic!

    You seem to believe there are at least two higher priorities:

    – Higher pay for classroom teachers

    – More respect for classroom teachers

    Are there others?

    Let me try to answer one of your questions:

    — “Do you disagree with me, that we feel more secure with people of our own ethnicity?”

    No, I do not disagree but does that mean students of color should be taught exclusively by teachers of color and white students taught exclusively by white teachers?

    What is the ultimate goal in hiring teachers of color? To have the percentage of teachers of color match the percentage of students of color? If so, is that realistic?

    “I don’t feel secure in a place where I know I don’t belong.” Are you suggesting that students of color do not feel secure in a classroom taught by a white teacher because they know they don’t belong there? If so, does that mean the white teacher would feel equally insecure because (s)he doesn’t belong there?

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